The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: How much will newly-signed tight end Ladarius Green’s blocking ability by a factor in this offense?
After the Steelers were informed of veteran tight end Heath Miller’s decision to retire after 11 NFL seasons, they turned to free agency and made restocking the position a priority, going out and signing Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract that makes him one of the bigger free agent ‘splashes’ by the team in years.
The team understood that the Steelers’ offense would not be the same without Miller, who was arguably the most complete tight end of his generation, and a true workhorse up to his retirement, tirelessly logging nearly every snap of every game and routinely finishing among the league’s top tight ends in terms of snaps played.
Knowing that the offense would not be the same without him, of course, the front office did not bother to look for his clone, which Green certainly is not. In fact, he will over the Steelers a receiving dimension from the right end position that they have never had before due to his speed and vertical ability, which, as great as Miller was, lacked himself.
But it would be foolish to suggest that the offense will not suffer without the former first-round draft choice’s blocking, a category of play in which Green is decidedly not his equal by any stretch of the imagination. While his speed may allow him to better serve as a lead blocker on sideline vertical screen passes—admittedly an offensive staple—his blocking ability across the board outside of that is on a level beneath that of Miller’s.
It is because of this that I question just what sort of snap count Green will be logging, as the Steelers might even consider utilizing one of their other tight ends in the occasional single-tight end set in which they know that his assignment will be to block—something nearly unthinkable with Miller present.
In terms of how his blocking ability might impact the offense, I believe that it will require the Steelers to use a greater variety of tight end looks, in terms of both personnel and groupings. And the running game in particular may suffer from it when he is the lone tight end on the field, though I fully expect them to remain a very effective rushing offense.